NASA recently released a vivid image of a pair of galaxy clusters in one of the most comprehensive views of the universe ever taken, according to the agency.
Called MACS0416, the galaxy clusters are located about 4.3 billion light-years away from Earth. According to NASA, the clusters of MACS0416 will eventually combine to create an even larger galaxy cluster.
A galaxy cluster is a collection of hundreds or thousands of individual galaxies, NASA said. They are some of the largest objects in the universe.
What the image shows
In NASA’s latest image, the many constituent galaxies of MACS0416 appear like red, white, blue and green Christmas lights glimmering in the night sky.
NASA said the different colors denote the distances of each galaxy. The bluest galaxies are relatively close and often show intense star formation, and the redder galaxies tend to be farther away.
Aside from distance, the colors provide other clues. For example, galaxies displaying the richest red hues do so because they contain large amounts of cosmic dust. This allows them to absorb bluer colors of starlight.
Why the image was taken
In addition to creating a colorful image, those observations were taken in an effort to find transients or objects that display varying brightness over time. By using those observations, researchers were able to identify 14 transients.
"We’re calling MACS0416 the Christmas Tree Galaxy Cluster, both because it’s so colorful and because of these flickering lights we find within it," said Haojing Yan of the University of Missouri in Columbia, lead author of one paper describing the scientific results. "We can see transients everywhere."
One of those transients is a star system the research team nicknamed "Mothra." According to NASA, the name is a nod to the star system’s "monster nature," as it is both extremely bright and extremely magnified.
Mothra joins another lensed star the researchers previously identified that they nicknamed after another monster in Japanese cinema, "Godzilla."